Fall into the Warm Embrace of Sulmona, Abruzzo

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona is set amongst the majestic Morrone mountains.

Just a week ago I made my first journey to Abruzzo and the wonderful town of Sulmona. Boy, did I get lucky. You see, Abruzzo, hadn’t really been on my radar, with the exception of sadly noting the devastating earthquake in Aquila in 2009.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and my new mantra is allowing the river of life to take me to new places and experiences. Trying to overly orchestrate life if for the birds. Serendipity is my friend, and I’m discovering magic, indeed, can happen in our lives if we just get out of the way.

Sulmona, Italywise

Sulmona’s finest ambassador, Novelia Giannantonio

So, the universe brought me Novelia Giannantonio. She found me through my blog and began writing me and weaving her magic spell to coax me to come to discover the warmth and beauty of Sulmona, which is in the heart of Abruzzo. My busy schedule was threatening to delay a trip there indefinitely. But, thanks to Novelia’s kind persistence, a small window of opportunity presented itself, and I seized the moment, and booked train tickets for a two-day stay in Sulmona.

In typical fashion, as I quickly learned, Novelia sprang into action, helping me to secure a beautiful place to stay in a 16th century structure (next time, with more notice, I’m booking Novelia’s beautiful penthouse!). She and her kind husband Peppe insisted on meeting me at the Pescara train station. She also informed me, quite proudly, that she had included me in a very special guest list for a private concert by an amazing soprano singer who was coming from Modena (more on that later in this post).

I could not have been welcomed more enthusiastically to Sulmona. What did I do to deserve this kind of good fortune? Novelia and Peppe were my loving shepherds for the two days of my visit. Feeding me (quite deliciously, I might add – Novelia is an AMAZING cook), giving me a guided tour and history of the town, and introducing me to their circle of friends, which included a delightful community of expats (from New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, the U.S. etc.). Incidentally, several of the expats were a tad afraid of my exposing their hidden treasure in this remote corner of Italy.

If you read no further in this post, I encourage you to reach out to Novelia through her website about her sweet penthouse, the “House of the Heart”, which contains her full contact information. I can vouch for her enthusiasm and desire to welcome everyone with open arms. Novelia clearly loves her Sulmona!

I hope you find this post compelling and informative – without being cumbersome. My challenge is the abundance Sulmona offers – which is ironic since my stay was so brief. Novelia and I agreed that this “maiden voyage” was simply my antipasto, and a return trip in early autumn, is in order.

So, now I endeavor to hit the high notes of things to do and experience in Sulmona. Again, my thanks to Novelia for providing me so much information to share. If you wisely decide to include Sulmona in your explorations, you will not find a better guide.

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A Dream Tuscany Cycling Trip – Women’s Quest

Tuscany Cycling Trip

Twice I have been given special dispensation to hang with the gals, get an amazing workout, and eat sinfully, all while soaking in the Tuscan countryside as part of the Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat. I’ve been one lucky fellow.

This year’s Women’s Quest Tuscany Cycling Retreat is September 11-18

I love getting the word out on special resources available to people considering coming to Italy and doing something extraordinary. This Women’s Quest Cycling Trip certainly fits the bill. Sorry guys, this year’s trip IS a women’s trip. BUT, in 2017 the schedule includes a Tuscany Retreat that is Co-ed! Woohoo!!!

I know Women’s Quest pretty intimately because, as part of my former job in California, I participated in doing a story about Women’s Quest and the numerous life-affirming trips they offer. The Founder and Leader of Women’s Quest is the inspiring Colleen Cannon, World Champion Triathlete (1984) and two-time US. National Champion Triathlete (1988 and 1990).

Don’t think about being intimidated by Colleen’s rock star status in the triathlete world – though she, and her incredible staff, will help you explore and push your boundaries. In my opinion, the universe sprinkled fairy dust on Colleen, and you will feel the magic of her guidance and mentoring.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the testimonials!

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10 Reasons You’ll Fall in Love with Treviso

Treviso, Italywise

Maybe I’m biased, since we now live in Treviso most of the time, but I believe Treviso is one of these best cities in Italy. You won’t find it listed on the hot lists of most tourist itineraries. However, if you carve out time in your schedule to come to Treviso, or to make it your base of operations while in Veneto, you won’t be disappointed. I quickly became enamored with Venice’s northern cousin. This post is to tempt you to do the same!

prosecco, Treviso, ItalywiseProsecco. You’re in the bullseye of its production (and mastery).

You’ve hit the jackpot if you are a fan of this sparkling Italian wine. Yes, in Treviso, you’ll find yourself smack dab in the thick of Prosecco production. I’m blown away by the prolific displays of this wine at the local markets, and finding a tasty prosecco for under 5 euro a bottle is pretty easy. And, this wine is abundantly available on-tap in most restaurants. People in the Veneto are known for their love of drink (and ability to hold it) and drinking prosecco, whether alone, or as part of a spritz, seems encoded in the genes of the locals.

My adoration of prosecco is reason alone to be in love with Treviso. Pair it up with cicchetti and the love affair deepens.

Cicchetti

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with bacalà

Many people refer to cicchetti as the Italian version of tapas, or small bites, which are served in  “bàcari”, cicchetti bars. These places abound, making it easy to have a quick lunch or dinner. Mainly this tradition is fueled by a love of communing and socializing, and starting mid-day it isn’t unusual to see people with drinks and small plates in hand, spilling outside these establishments into the alleyways.

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Tranquility Often is Just Around the Corner

Venice, tranquility, Italywise

A Venice canal in the Cannaregio at dusk.

Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I love how it is full of mystery, history and paradox. I love its organic, challenging terrain. I love allowing myself to get lost, and the adventure of finding my way and navigating this giant maze. Yet, what I love most is how tranquility always awaits, if you’re willing to venture off the main thoroughfares. And, this leads me to the featured photo for this post.

Just a few weeks ago, I made the short trek from Treviso to Venice by train. I gave myself permission, for the afternoon, to wander, without a fixed time schedule or agenda. Let the journey unfold. This seems to be a major lesson and opportunity for me, especially since moving to Italy. Set preconceived ideas aside, and trust that the universe will lead me. Trying to control my experience, and life’s outcomes has been a yoke that I took on years and years ago. But, that is changing. Scary to “let go”? Yes. But, it can be an incredible relief to step aside from trying to be chief commander and choreographer of one’s experience.

The first time I visited Venice, I was pretty much put off by the throngs of tourists owning the streets. The noise level, and the threshold of activity was just too much for me. Had I attached myself to this first experience, I would have deprived myself of the full dimensions and offerings of this spectacular city. Subsequent trips, purposefully planned to take me off the beaten-track and thoroughfares, yielded a bounty of experience that led me to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with Venice. I found beauty, quiet, and tranquility hidden away.

So, on this recent excursion, I first threw myself into the current of tourists until I found my exit to head to the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop, and a trip to Burano. Within just minutes, and in a matter of just a few steps, the noise abated, and space opened up. I meandered my way to the boat stop, relishing the beauty of lonely canals and quiet comings and goings.

Upon my return from Burano, at dusk, I slowed my pace, hoping to prolong a meditative stroll, before abruptly finding myself amongst a sea of activity and noise. I stopped on a bridge, savoring the warm, evolving colors of dusk, and snapped this photo. Nothing can repeat the moment of being there, but this image does serve as a reminder and a beacon that tranquility is often close at hand.

The main streets of Venice, clogged with eager tourists, serve as a metaphor for my mind, and the often incessant stream of thoughts. When I am caught up in the grips of thinking, I really can’t see or experience anything, and I suffer a major case of misidentification. Life feels “flat” and I feel anything but present. When I am under the sway of incessant thinking I often completely forget that tranquility and quietude awaits. And, like this canal at dusk, with its still waters, and warm colors, peace can find me, or present itself, when I take the metaphorical journey away from engaging with or believing the stream of thoughts that stubbornly insist on my attention.

Often we distinguish between talking and thinking. Yet, I offer that thinking simply is talking to ourselves. Thinking can be a marvelous servant, but I believe it has taken over our lives, and obscured our true natures. Kahlil Gibran, often called a Christian mystic, beautifully expresses this in an excerpt from The Prophet:

 

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

 

 

Coming to Treviso? Head to Hostaria dai Naneti for a Quick Bite with the Locals

Trevsio, Naneti, Italywise

Our “snack” was a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, a basket of bread and two glasses of wine – only 10 euro!

Treviso is chock-full of reasons (too numerous to list here, but coming in a subsequent post) to make it a stop on your tour of Veneto. It’s easy to leave the hordes of tourists in Venice and head to this incredibly civilized and elegant town, just 20 minutes north. With its river and canals running in and around the city center, Treviso, like Venice, is an ancient city. And, it’s the home of Prosecco. I joke that the waterway encircling the city surely must be made entirely of prosecco.

Recently we’ve latched onto one of Treviso’s prized gems – Hostaria dai Naneti. Dedicated locals flock here daily to queue up, and grab quick bites (cicchetti) and glasses of wine from a generous listing on the main board. On TripAdvisor, Hostaria dai Naneti currently is rated #2 out of 333 Treviso restaurants. I’d say that’s a pretty hearty endorsement. We found this place on our own one day, when strolling the city center. We spotted it, tucked in a small alley adjacent to the large Benetton store (headquartered in Treviso). People were spilling out of the Hostaria, drinks and cicchetti in hand, into the alleyway, where they were communing happily.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

Locals queue up for panini, boards of sliced meats, and glasses of wine (or a Spritz!)

Hostaria dai Naneti, dates back to the 900s and is reportedly the second oldest institution in Treviso. The name itself reflects the local dialect. Hostaria is a local variation on “osteria” which traditionally refers to a place of simple wine and local food. Some people might call it an Italian “pub” or “public house” (I call it a really cool, down to earth wine bar). “Naneti” is a local variation on “nanetti” which means dwarves. I’ll have to dig further to understand how dwarves inspired this Treviso institution.

Tons of locals choose Hostaria dai Naneti for a quick lunch, and often they return for “happy hour” later in the day, when they can wind down and linger. If you arrive during peak business, be patient, and be prepared to queue up – though understanding who is next in line can be a bit confusing. Fortunately this is mitigated by the incredible kindness and civility of the Treviso people. In other words, it may feel like you’re stepping into a bit of madness, but it’s a happy madness. The people running the hostaria are agile food and beverage artisans. A large wine “board” lists an ample selection of yummy wine, and a case of cicchetti (prepared small bites) and cured meats and cheeses make ordering easy.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

The Wine Board at Hostaria dai Naneti

Simone kindly volunteered to order for us. Two glasses of wine, a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, and a basket of bread, only set us back 10 euro. Hard to beat, right? A similar offering in California would have been at least $30. While this didn’t become our lunch for the day, it nicely sated our appetites, and quenched our thirsts after a morning strolling and shopping trip in Treviso’s city center. Life IS good!

 

Hostaria dai Naneti

Via Broli, 2, Treviso, Italia

Tel: 3403783158

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The Devil Is in the Detail, or Is the Detail in the Devil?

Handsome devil, Italywise

Tintoretto chose to portray a “handsome devil” in The Temptation of Christ (detail)

How many times have we heard someone described as a “handsome devil”? I never gave it much thought, until I stumbled across a handsome devil, literally, while reading the captivating novel, Lucifer’s Shadow, by David Hewson, which is set in Venice. A central character, Signor Sacchi is showing young Englishman Daniel Forster Tintoretto’s The Temptation of Christ, at the Scuola Grande’s Sala Superior, and pointing out how Tintoretto broke with the majority of the portrayals of a horrific Lucifer, and painted him as a devilishly beguiling young man. I guess it makes the temptation even more tempting. What starving person could say no to such a beautiful face?

Tintoretto, Italywise

The Temptation of Christ – Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was so intrigued by this snippet in the plot that I rushed to my computer, and my buddy Google, and saw for myself. Now, I’m determined to make the hike down to Venice and experience this in person. My love of art history once again has been ignited, and with a concentration on the jackpot of artistic treasures in Venice, I’m going to be busy for a long time. Since my recollections of Tintoretto are too vague to be of use, I want to focus and learn everything I can about this acclaimed artist.

This painting certainly has piqued my curiosity, especially in regards to man’s endless quest to make sense of good and evil, or light and dark. This is evidenced in the stories and myths man has created and expressed in art and literature, with Satan often being a headliner.

I’m a big fan, and follower of the work of Carl Jung. In fact, I’m due for a re-reading of his book, Man and His Symbols. I believe Jung “nailed” the prevailing cause of man’s neurosis and lack of mental and emotional wholeness: Man’s attempt to split off and purge his own darkness. The devil became a representation of this attempt to jettison the unsavory parts of one’s nature which lurk in shadow side of the psyche. Jung believed a wholesale rejection of man’s shadow side leads to an individual’s unending battle with himself.

Having grown up with many heavy-handed and fearful teachings of a Southern Baptist culture, I know I’ve spent years in a war with myself. Consequently, I’ve been a prisoner of perfectionism. However, try as I may to exorcise the devil, and run from my shadow, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of bringing light, and acceptance, to all parts of my being.

I realize I’m probably getting WAY too philosophical, and usually I endeavor to avoid discussing religion or sounding “preachy” in any regard, since I believe the path to wholeness and truth isn’t a one-size-fits all. That said, I do love the following quote from Carl Jung about working with the shadow. I call it making peace with the devil – whether
“he” is handsome or horrific.

May we all find peace and integration, and may we continue to enjoy and utilize the vast myths and stories that represent our search for meaning.

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung, “The Philosophical Tree” (1945)

Head South from Venice to the Port of Chioggia

Chioggia, Italywise

Chioggia is just 45 minutes south of Venice, and well worth a side trip.

Veneto is rich with places to visit, yet most visitors make a beeline for Venice and miss out on some of the gems close by. Yes, Venice is hard to beat (it’s my favorite city in Italy…thus far) but at times it’s hard to extricate yourself from the strong tourist influence, unless you have a real insider’s guide, or unless you know a native Venetian who will share the parts of Venice that are hidden to most visitors.

So, if you’ve exhausted yourself on Venice, and if you’re up for a change of pace, then I’d recommend taking a jaunt south to the port and fishing village of Chioggia. It may not be the jackpot of tourist attractions, but it’s a lovely, picturesque town in which you experience a slower pace and Italian life with more normalcy.

The best advice I can give you to really appreciate Chioggia is to stroll leisurely while absorbing the local flavor and the photo-worthy beauty of the canals, boats and colorful houses. Sure, there are a few churches, an ancient bell-tower and a bustling fish market, but you may find the historical richness and content pales after time in Venice. Don’t let that deter you because you’ll be cheating yourself.

I had my first introduction to Chiogga last week when we met with Italian friends (translation five Italians and one American – me). One of these friends is from Chioggia and she wanted to share her hometown with us. What a treat. This began with an amazing seafood “pranzo” at Ristorante Palazzo (Via Cavallotti Felice, 368), with an unimposing edifice, on a small street. You might think you’re heading “nowhere”, but I’m here to tell you, you’re definitely heading to a lunch that is well worth your time – not only from the quality and freshness of the local seafood, but from an experience of the locals.

Get there early, or call ahead to reserve a table (041 5507212), otherwise this “hopping” place won’t be able to accommodate you.

When we arrived, already there was a lively group of “good ole boys” (fourteen of them) having a long, happy lunch (with lots of toasting). We started with prosecco on tap and served by the liter (I still pinch myself that this is a pretty standard experience in Veneto – after all it is the birthplace of prosecco, and the hub of its production). Then, the seafood – so good that, as they say in the South in the U.S., I just wanted to slap someone. I started with a soft polenta covered with calamari fritti, and followed it up with cozze (mussels) marinara. The sauce was generous, and I employed a used shell to scoop up this savory liquid, while also inviting my friends to sop it up with bread (they joyfully complied). Other dishes at the table – a spaghetti allo scoglio (literally referring to the rocks on the shore where the fish and crustaceans reside). This, also, was in a marinara sauce. Another dish was a plate a deliciously prepared and handsomely presented scallops.

With our bellies nicely sated, we strolled for at least three hours, stopping for espresso and a grappa (for me), and a small deter to a pasticceria for meringhe (a hard meringue filled with heavy whipped cream).

All-in-all, a pretty amazing day. I’m grateful for every one of these experiences!

An unforgettable lunch at Ristorante Palazzo, Chioggia

 

Staying “Abreast” of Famous Italian Sculpture

Italian sculpture, Italywise

Fontana delle tette once spouted red wine and white wine during important celebrations.

I’m taking a break from writing about the practicalities of living in Italy, and from philosophical musings about a big life change. As I write this post, I’m finding it impossible to wipe the smile from my face. Just yesterday I was introduced to the Fontana delle tette, which translates as “The Fountain of the Tits”. Yes, you heard correctly. This statue, found in the city of Treviso, is a famous piece of Italian sculpture, created in 1559. In the photo above, I’m lovingly wrapping my arms around this wonderful lady, who I understand is a replica of the original (encased in protective glass nearby). The story of its creation earns my admiration for Italian creativity and ingenuity. But, before I share the story as I understand it, a brief side note…

My dear mother, Liz Smith-Cox, would love this statue. I so wish she were still with me in this earthly realm so we could converse about this lovely woman. I suspect Mom would giggle mischievously, while simultaneously applauding the ingenuity of the sculpture. Liz is a legend in the world of art education. She was also raised as a Baptist, which might have squelched celebration of works of art that would be perceived as too revealing or “naughty”. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. My mother celebrated the naked beauty of the human form, and taught me likewise. I remember, back in high school when I was her student, she had prepared a slide show of important historical works of arts. Instead of making the presentation herself, she was sidelined by a flu, necessitating a substitute teacher – one who came with some religious baggage. As the substitute played the slide show my mom had prepared, she obscured slides on the screen that featured any kind of nudity. When Mom heard about this impromptu censorship, she was furious. And, in my opinion, for just cause.

I hope the above paragraph doesn’t seem gratuitous. I share it, nonetheless, to provide context as to why I love this piece of Italian sculpture.

A brief history of Fontana delle tette

This sculpture was rendered by the orders of the mayor of the Republic of Venice, Alvise Da Ponte, in 1559 after a hard drought had plagued Treviso and the surrounding countryside. The fountain’s first home was the Praetorian Palace, in Via Calmaggiore. In the autumn, if there was a new Podesta (a high, elected official), wine would flow from the breasts of this statue. White flowed from one nipple, and red from the other. City citizens could quench their thirst for wine for three days.

Damn, I wish this still the case. I’d be lined up with the other residents, ready to drink my fill. The wines of Veneto are spectacular., But, I’ll save that for another post.

I hope you find this snippet of local history interesting. And, in closing, I raise a toast to my wonderful mother, who nursed me well in all the ways that matter! Thanks Liz!!!

 

 

 

 

Hitting the Jackpot for Venetian Cicchetti (Small Bites)

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with baccalà

I can be a control freak, which at times can be at odds with spontaneity and seizing the moment. When I do quit trying to orchestrate life’s opportunities, some pretty great experiences have shown up in my life. Hence, this post…

We’ve recently relocated to the Veneto, and are living within a half-hour of Venice. We’ll still be maintaining the house in Umbria, but the Veneto is now our “home base”. So, just days ago, and after yet another day of unpacking and trying to settle into our new abode, friends called and invited us to meet them in Venice for drinks and cicchetti, which are Venetian “small bites”. We drove to Venice Mestre and took the train shuttle into Venice. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Frankly, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m one lucky fellow now to be able to do this kind of thing.

Having drinks and cicchetti is like breathing for Venetians. I’ve quickly became a devotee of the practice, after visiting some of the best establishments for these addictive “small bites”.

Cicchetti, Italywise

Perfectly hidden in an alley that seems to go nowhere, protecting the goldmine of cicchetti and ambiance

A good friend, who hails from an old Venetian family, urged us to visit Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. It is so close to the Rialto bridge you might think it would be a major tourist trap. Thankfully it’s hidden from view of most tourists, several turns down a narrow alley which seems to be a dead-end. As we arrived this past Thursday night, a barren alleyway suddenly yielded a lively crowd spilling out the door of Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, with drinks and small plates in hand. Inside, locals were queueing up to order the beautifully displayed cicchetti. The variety was immense, and at least half of the selection was seafood “themed”. Baccalà, or codfish, is the star of much cicchetti in Venice, and comes in many yummy variations. There were vegetarian options (e.g. mini eggplant Parmigiano), meat options (e.g. skewers with sausages and vegetables), and several cheese options (e.g. fried mozzarella with anchovies). I could have closed my eyes, and pointed blindly at the vast array of choices without being disappointed with any single dish. I ordered the skewers of grilled seafood, several polpette (meatballs) of tuna and ricotta, polpette with meat, and a couple of mini eggplant Parmagiano.

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Street Life in Sicily

Life in Italy, Italywise

Street life in Cefalu, Sicily is rich in vignettes.

I feel like a paparazzo (that’s just one photographer vs paparazzi, which indicates many) of street life in Italy. I do this not only for photography, but for inspiration for my paintings. I try to work in stealth (that translates into having a zoom lens), so as not to disturb the energy of the scenes that unfold before my eyes.

So it was on this day in Cefalu, Sicily, that I begin zigzagging through the streets with my periscope up on the lookout to see what presented itself. Much of the movie Cinema Paradiso was filmed Cefalu. I can see why this was a perfect movie set, and still is.

The translation of Cefalu is “head”, and theories suggest this refers to the shape of the hill and rock above the town, adorned with an ancient castle.

Learn more about Cefalu at ItalyGuides.it.

In this particular image, the gentlemen in the chair was fixed, as if rendered in stone. Meanwhile la suora (the sister) moves up the street, and enters a home. I love these layers of street life in Sicily, and I hope to return for a longer visit, solely to for the purpose of capturing life as it unfolds on the streets of Sicily.

For this and other photographs, please be sure to check out my online gallery.

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